To curb illegal immigration, we must first dispel the myth

The UK needs to understand the reasons that drive people to risk everything.

The UK needs to understand the reasons that drive people to risk everything

“Anyone who comes here from Sudan has respect in the UK”, says John, a migrant in Calais. His belief is all too familiar amongst the scores of men, women and children who line streets at the French port, risking everything to try and complete the last leg of their long journey to Britain.

And as the rumours of the ‘respect’ that these migrants will receive when they reach UK borders continues to grow, so do the new arrivals to Calais. John and his fellow migrants believe that once they reach England, they will easily gain work and be provided with a comfortable life supported by the welfare system. Unfortunately for John, this is not the reality.

For life as an illegal immigrant is a life that doesn’t exist. Without any official documentation, the illegal immigrants are unable to claim benefits and access the welfare state, despite some quarters of the reactionary press stating otherwise.

The only way to do so is to claim asylum, but only one in three applications are granted, and the process can take longer than 12 months. In that time asylum seekers are unable to find work or receive the kind of benefits open to UK residents.

Instead, they live a life stricken with fear, poverty and broken dreams. The Life Without Papers blog, which documents the lives of a handful of these illegal migrants, tells the story of Ruth and her daughter Dyanna, who are forced to continually move from place to place in order to keep under the radar, while frequently relying on foodbanks and landlords that don’t ask questions. Ruth even confesses that life has been so tough, that she’s considered taking hers and her daughters lives to end it.

This reality, however, is buried beneath the mythical headlines intended to stir up reactions: ‘Illegal immigrants receive more benefits than pensioners‘, reads one. It’s a lie that not only fools many in Britain, but also creates false hope for the thousands who embark on their cross-continent journeys from the likes of Sudan.

According to Eurostat, France is one of eleven EU countries that spend a larger percentage of its GDP on welfare than the UK, while it is also amongst 13 that were overall less strict than the UK when it came to eligibility, according to Danielle Venn for the OECD.

These are the tales and statistics that need to be picked up on and presented worldwide, rather than the kind of scaremongering by the right-wing press and politicians. Nine feet high fences may make it harder for some to make their way over the Channel, but for how long? It won’t stop the attempts, meaning it’s only a matter of time until another way is found.

The UK needs to begin to understand the reasons that drive these people to risk everything, including their lives, to reach Britain. Only when we engage on that level can we begin to dismantle the false hope that no doubt lies at the root of their dreams.

This is not simply an issue of ‘preserving our society’, because in truth, illegal immigrants cannot be a drain on a society they must forever live apart from. It is more about saving them, and providing them with the brutal, honest facts about the end of their journey. If we did that, I’m sure that many would think twice before embarking on it.

Luke Nightingale is a freelance journalist and founding editor of The Looking Glass Liverpool. He also blogs

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